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Williams v. Lasalle Correctional Center L.L.C.

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

April 5, 2017

SHARON WILLIAMS, ALISHA WAGNER, TRENISHA THOMAS O/B/O MINOR CHILDREN, DERRICK WILLIAMS, JR., DANETRIA THOMAS, NA'DERRICKA THOMAS, AND KEONA GRANT O/B/O MINOR CHILD, DANDRIA GRANT O/B/O DECEASED, DERRICK WILLIAMS Respondents
v.
LASALLE CORRECTIONAL CENTER L.L.C. D/B/A RICHWOOD CORRECTIONAL CENTER AND ITS UNKNOWN INSURER Applicants

         On Application for Writs from the Fourth Judicial District Court for the Parish of Ouachita, Louisiana Lower Court Case No. 2016-0078 Honorable H. Stephens Winters, Judge

          PROVOSTY, SADLER & DELAUNAY Counsel for Applicants By: H. Bradford Calvit Stephen F. Butterfield.

          DAVIS LAW OFFICE, L.L.C. Counsel for Respondents By: S. P. Davis, Sr. Kharmen Davis.

          Before MOORE, LOLLEY, and GARRETT, JJ.

          GARRETT, J.

         Relatives of an inmate who allegedly died due to lack of medical care originally filed suit in Lincoln Parish against the private companies managing the prison where he was incarcerated. Following an exception of improper venue, the suit was transferred to Ouachita Parish, where the prison was located. The defendants then filed an exception of prescription, which was denied by the trial court. The defendants filed a writ application in this court, which granted it to docket. The writ is now granted and made peremptory. We reverse the trial court judgment, grant the exception of prescription, and dismiss the plaintiffs' suit.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         According to the facts alleged in this record, Derrick Williams, an inmate at the Richwood Correctional Center, was found unresponsive at that facility on January 23, 2014, and pronounced dead upon his transfer to University Health Conway in Monroe.

         On January 23, 2015, [1] the plaintiffs - Williams' mother and children - filed a petition for damages in Lincoln Parish against the LaSalle Correctional Center, LLC ("LaSalle"), d/b/a Richwood Correctional Center, and its unknown insurer. Their petition asserted that LaSalle was a foreign corporation doing business in Ruston, whose agent for service of process was located in Ruston, which is in Lincoln Parish. The plaintiffs alleged that Williams had complained of chest discomfort, headaches, and pain for about one month before his death, but the defendants failed to provide him with timely and adequate medical care and treatment. The suit was served on the defendants' agent for service of process in Lincoln Parish on January 29, 2015. On June 22, 2015, the plaintiffs filed an amended petition in which they deleted LaSalle as a defendant, instead naming Richwood Correctional Center, LLC ("Richwood"), as the defendant and alleging the same address and agent for service of process as in the original petition.

         In July 2015, LaSalle and Richwood filed an exception of venue, challenging the filing of the suit in Lincoln Parish. They asserted that, under La. R.S. 15:1184(F), the mandatory venue provision of the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), exclusive venue for the suit was in Ouachita Parish, where Richwood Correctional Facility was located and where all alleged torts occurred.[2] They requested that the suit be dismissed without prejudice or, alternatively, transferred to Ouachita Parish for further proceedings.

         In opposition to the venue exception, the plaintiffs made the following argument:

Plaintiffs aver that the deceased, Derrick Williams, was an inmate in Richland Correctional Center on January 23, 2014 at the time of his death. Plaintiffs further aver that Richland Correctional Center is located in Monroe, Louisiana. [Plaintiffs concede] that according to LRS 15:1184, proper venue would be proper in Ouachita Parish where the Richland Correctional Center is located. Plaintiffs further aver that if the court decides that the venue in which the [plaintiffs'] action was filed is in fact improper, the plaintiffs [aver] that their claim should not be dismissed, but in fact transferred to the venue that would be proper in the interest of justice. (Emphasis theirs.) . . .

         The plaintiffs aver that [they] did not knowingly file suit in the wrong venue. The plaintiffs further aver that they filed suit based upon the general rules of venue that pertain to all delictual causes of action. The plaintiffs further aver that this cause of action arises as a result of the death of Derrick Williams, and was not an action brought by him due to any injury that was sustained prior to January 23, 2014. Therefore, [plaintiffs aver] that their cause of action should not be dismissed, but in fact transferred to the venue that would be proper in this matter.

         The venue exception was taken up at a hearing on October 9, 2015. Following a status conference, the entire record was introduced into evidence. Finding that each side had done an excellent job presenting its position in writing, the trial court dispensed with oral argument by agreement with the parties. The trial court then granted the venue exception and ordered that, in the interest of justice, the case be transferred to Ouachita Parish. The judgment ordering the transfer was signed on November 16, 2015.

         Following the suit's transfer to Ouachita Parish, Richwood filed answers to both the petition and the amended petition in which it generally denied liability. It further alleged that Williams' death was caused by his "unknown medical condition, " hypertensive cardiovascular disease, which was an "Act of God, " for which it was not responsible.

         On April 1, 2016, Richwood and LaSalle filed a peremptory exception of prescription. They contended that the prescriptive period was not interrupted and the plaintiffs' claims were prescribed on their face because (1) the plaintiffs filed suit in Lincoln Parish, an improper venue, instead of Ouachita Parish, the exclusive venue under La. R.S. 15:1184; and (2) they failed to serve any defendant with process before the one-year prescriptive period expired, which was fatal to their claims under La. C.C. art. 3462. The plaintiffs filed an opposition to the exception in which they contended that the courts in Lincoln Parish and Ouachita Parish had concurrent jurisdiction and venue under La. C.C.P. art. 42 and La. R.S. 15:1184(F). As a result, they maintained that the timely filing of their suit in Lincoln Parish interrupted prescription.

         At a hearing on July 27, 2016, the trial court denied the exception.[3] It interpreted the second sentence of La. R.S. 15:1184 to mean that other venues could be proper. Consequently, it found that venue was also proper in Lincoln Parish under La. C.C.P. art. 42. Judgment was signed August 8, 2016. Costs were assessed against the defendants.

         Richwood and LaSalle filed an application for a supervisory writ in this court, which was granted to docket.

         LAW

         The PLRA was enacted by Acts 1997, No. 731, § 1, and became effective on July 9, 1997. The purpose of enacting the PLRA was to provide for civil actions with respect to prison conditions. The definition provision of the PLRA, La. R.S. 15:1181, shows that the legislative intent was to provide for civil actions with respect to prison conditions or effects of officials' actions on prisoners' lives, as opposed to matters concerning incarceration vel non. McCoy v. State ex rel. Jones, 39, 323 (La.App. 2 Cir. 2/17/05), 901 So.2d 1109, writ denied, 2005-0960 (La. 2/3/06), 922 So.2d 1161; Frederick v. Ieyoub, 1999-0616 (La.App. 1 Cir. 5/12/00), 762 So.2d 144, writ denied, 2000-1811 (La. 4/12/01), 789 So.2d 581. La. R.S. 15:1181 provides the following relevant definitions:

(2) "Civil action with respect to prison conditions" or "prisoner suit" means any civil proceeding with respect to the conditions of confinement or the effects of actions by government officials on the lives of persons confined in prison, but does not include post conviction relief or habeas corpus proceedings challenging the fact or duration of confinement in prison. * * *
(5) "Prison" means any state or local jail, prison, or other correctional facility that incarcerates or detains juveniles or adults accused of, convicted of, sentenced for, or adjudicated ...

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